Inspiration, enthusiasm and passion come together in the heart of a sculptor
It is not often that I get to hit record, sit back and enjoy an interview. It is not often that my imagination is provoked by simply listening to someone talk. And it is not often that someone is able to stop time with his words and evoke tears that force me to break my gaze.
As I entered Isaac Duncan III’s workshop, I carefully stepped around and over objects, tables and tools. Metal sculptures I recognized adorned the shop while others were in the process of being created. Large quantities of metal lay around on tables, shelves and the floor, waiting to take on a new form.
Duncan and I made our way to two chairs near the middle of the shop, where we continued our deep discussion of the “Dukes of Hazard” television show we grew up watching. For someone from Brooklyn, Duncan is surprisingly Southern. We agreed that watching the show as kids, we were mesmerized by its awesomeness.
I mean, who didn’t want their parents to paint the family car like the General Lee? Who didn’t want to jump hay bales? We did. I even owned Daisy Duke pajamas as a kid. But watching the show as an adult is, well, bummer. Let’s just say it didn’t do much to improve race relations in this country, let alone in the South.
After I felt the ice had been broken, I hit Record and began with the standard interview questions as to upbringing, education and life in general. Duncan, with his calm, deep and articulate voice, shared the impressive educational journey that landed him here in Chattanooga, which can be found on his website, duncansculpture.com. He took me through his survival techniques on the streets of Brooklyn and how he used drawing as an outlet in elementary school.
He laughingly described how he got into metal sculpting: “I was really into building, more so than illustrating—graphic design. Forget the rendering and all the marker, texture and layers to make it pop out. Just make the damn thing.”
While I was listening, it was not so much the struggle he endured to reach his current status as an artist that moved me, it was the passion and earnestness with which he spoke that evoked emotions we all ignore. I found myself longing to interact and be a part of his conversation.
As Duncan continued to talk about his sculptures, he made it very clear that he did not seek wealth, notoriety or material things. Instead, he sought something simpler, an art that is dying.
“When I put a piece out in the public—and the reason why I do artwork in public places is because I want to give the community something different that they haven’t encountered—I want them to look at it. I want them to talk about it. I want two people to get together and have a conversation about it—if they like it, don’t like it,” he said with great enthusiasm.
“I want Joe Welder to pass by and say, ‘Damn! That’s a good weld!’ If that’s the only thing he’s got, I’m happy. Because I want people to relate.
“So for me, my sculptures, they’re vessels for dialogue. They are places where people can come together and have a conversation. I want to remind people that we can achieve whatever we want and put our minds to, because the piece that they see in front of them is a creation from my mind through my body and my skills to create that experience that they are having. And at the same time, I want people to pass by and see something odd and say, ‘Cool, I accept that,’ just like we should be doing to each other every day. I see you and you’re different from me, but I accept that. To me, if you are able to accept something that’s not living, you should be able to accept something that is living.”
I couldn’t say it any better myself.
Photo by Grant Dotson, courtesy of Isaac Duncan